Conservative evangelical voters fear a President Hillary Clinton more than the devil, Moral Majority founder Jerry Falwell said in remarks reported Sunday.
Hillary Clinton, from Clinton.Senate.gov, and Rosalinda Celentano as Satan from Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ." (Icon)
"I certainly hope that Hillary is the candidate," Falwell said in a recording of a Friday morning closed-door session with evangelical leaders obtained by the Los Angeles Times. "Because nothing will energize my [constituency] like Hillary Clinton."
"If Lucifer ran, he wouldn't," Falwell continued, reportedly filling the room with cheers and laughter.
Falwell's breakfast talk was part of a three-day gathering in Washington this weekend seeking to rally the so-called "values" voters, many who feel let down by politicians they worked to elect in 2004.
Focus on the Family founder James Dobson, a sponsor of the Values Voter Summit, said he was reluctant to work as hard for Republicans as he did two years ago, because of failures like not passing a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage and passage of a bill expanding federal funding of embryonic stem-cell research that forced a presidential veto.
But Dobson said after a series of meetings in Washington this summer he agreed to rally evangelical voters again because of the specter of Democrats winning control of Congress. "I came home absolutely convinced there absolutely is no choice, because the alternative is terrible," Dobson said.
Possible presidential candidates Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee, George Allen and Sam Brownback all came to the gathering to woo religious conservatives. Moderate Republican contenders like John McCain and Rudolph Giuliani were noticeably absent.
Falwell said the Republican nominee for president must be a true conservative.
"It can't be a Giuliani, and it cannot be a [New York Gov. George E.] Pataki," he said. "It cannot be a pro-choice. It cannot be a person on the wrong side of the social issues. We've got to have somebody worth fighting for, because we will be energized if Hillary is the standard-bearer."
Falwell predicted, despite polls showing Democrats poised to make gains, this year's midterm elections would go in the GOP's favor.
"I think we're going to keep the House and the Senate," he said. "I think the Lord will take care of that."
Falwell isn't the only one to bring up Satan in recent political discourse. Speaking last Wednesday at the United Nations, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez compared U.S. President George W. Bush to the devil.
"The devil came here yesterday," Chavez said, referring to an address by Bush to the U.N. General Assembly on Tuesday. "And it smells of sulfur still today."
While Chavez's remarks were widely criticized by U.S. Democrats, Dobson told this weekend's Washington gathering he viewed the protest as anemic.
Dobson said Chavez "attacked our president viciously," and there were only a few "pantywaist comments" in response.
According to the L.A. Times report, Dobson didn't respond to an interview request to discuss Falwell's comments. Neither did Falwell, but Family Research Council head Tony Perkins told the paper he believed the Lynchburg, Va., preacher intended his comment to be a "humorous remark."
Not everyone was amused.
"He was calling Hillary Clinton a demonic figure and openly arguing that God is a Republican," Barry Lynn of Americans United for Separation of Church and State told the Times. "It's hard to know whether people thought he was joking or serious, but once you start using religious imagery and invoking a politician in this way, it's not funny. A lot of people who listen to him do think that she's a dark force of evil in America."
Controversy is nothing new for Falwell, pastor of Thomas Road Baptist Church and chancellor of Liberty University.
In the aftermath of 9/11, he said on Pat Robertson's "700 Club" the attacks might be the result of God's judgment on America.
"I really believe that the Pagans, and the abortionists and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People For the American Way, all of them who have tried to secularize America," Falwell said, "I point the finger in their face and say, 'You helped this happen.'"
In 2002 he told "60 Minutes" he thought Muhammad was a "terrorist" and a "violent man," later apologizing for offending "any sincere, law-abiding Muslim." Two years later he said on CNN that when it comes to terrorists, America should "blow them all away in the name of the Lord."
Falwell was accused of violating tax law by endorsing President Bush in the 2004 election. Speaking to the Southern Baptist Convention Pastors Conference that summer, Falwell credited evangelicals for returning Bush to office for a second term and said Christians should turn an eye toward defeating Hillary Clinton if she decides to run 2008.
"The church won the 2004 elections and don't let anyone tell you any differently," Falwell told a crowd of about 9,000 Southern Baptists, according to the Associated Press.
"Now we've got a bigger challenge ahead of us. We've got to deal with Hillary in '08," Falwell said amid cheers and clapping from audience members in Nashville, Tenn.
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.